By John Blombach
People want it all, they want it now, and the kids whine like babies when they don’t get their way. There seems to be a sense of entitlement for everything from decadent cuisine and swanky clothing, to lavish homes and extravagant automobiles. A Beemer, Benz, or a Lexus, has become the new Holy Grail for the American family. Moreover, who could possibly be expected to squeeze into digs smaller than five thousand square feet, where each member of the household has his or her own magnificent private guest wing?
This materialistic philosophy has become the central theme in most of our lives, but has created an unhealthy attitude that has warped our view of what is normal, and for some unfortunate folks, more is never enough. Driven by a sense of greed, and utter lack of responsibility for their own checkbook, combined with easy credit access, Americans have become intoxicated with reckless spending, for no other reason than to simply fulfill their wildest dreams and fantasies.
Does reckless spending really act as a bond to bring us together and make us feel equal on some level, or is it just another addiction, plunging American society deeper into debt and a moral abyss? It appears to have created a society of spoiled, immature, and even childlike adults, whose continuously resounding mantra of more, more, more has caused a chaotic frenzy in our families and a breakdown of spiritual and moral values eventually culminating in an inevitable bust.
Once, my economics class went on a field trip to Newport, Rhode Island to study a popular section of the city known as Millionaire’s Row. Having grown up in a poor family, I was easily impressed and influenced by the palpable aura of opulence and arrogance that filled the air, as our bus rumbled its way down Belleview Avenue. Though all the homes along Belleview were grandiose, “The Breakers”, a summer home of railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt, was breathtaking, towering colossally above its stately surroundings. The stunning grand entryway was exquisitely adorned with larger than life, highly wrought ornate gates, hand forged by world renowned blacksmith Samuel Yellin.
The mansion itself was constructed from only the highest quality materials, with imported Italian marble, granite, and exotic wood, all brought to Newport and assembled by first-class craftsmen gathered from around the globe. The grand elegance and flair of the magnificent villa left an indelible impression on a young college boy like myself. On that day, I was truly born, and, with unrestrained enthusiasm, greeted the American lifestyle with open arms.
As Americans, we use stuff as a gauge to define who we are, our very being, our success or failure. Growing up in past decades, we spent half our lives chasing that success, an ever fleeting “dream” of financial security, amassing immense wealth, and vast fortunes. We got hundred dollar bills stacked to the ceiling, “look at me” toys, and all the time thinking there would be a destination, a happy zone just around the next bend. We did not know then, that the more you have, the more you want.
Most of the time, we are lulled by the immediate, shallow pleasure of superficiality and plasticity with our lust for stuff. We come into this world with nothing and leave with nothing. All the excess waste of buying things that we do not need, or necessarily even want, just takes away from the good we could do in the world by sharing the horns of plenty we have been blessed with. A little generosity will leave a lasting feeling of accomplishment and a legacy that all the buying in the world just can’t compete with. Generosity is not fighting the war on poverty by giving those who have nothing a little more; that will only create a new class of poverty and the class warfare that always comes from unwarranted gifts.
The American Dream is not guaranteed as a dollar amount or a specified quantity of stuff. We all have our idea of just what that dream is to ourselves and our families, and it is certainly different for everyone. Success to one might be a house with a white picket fence but to another, it could be a strong sense of self-worth, self-satisfaction, well-being, or gratitude to be born free, to be born in America and to be optimistic about the future. Possessions such as luxurious cars, fancy homes, and the latest technological toys become the very vehicle creating a new class of social pariahs.
The truth is that Americans live better than all but royalty in most of the world and better than all the prominent families of past centuries. Progress has been made in some areas of society, but one must keep in mind that only equals can be treated equally, so having the same stuff does not create any kind of equality. Giving everyone a free car will not eliminate social bias. Racial and social inequality, gender bias and other social maladies can never be eradicated by throwing money at them. Shallow give-away programs create an underclass of people who are restless, irritable and discontent, and feeling cheated, disappointed and depressed over their own poor choices and fleeting thrills. Our debt-fueled “prosperity” has become a kind of soul sickness, a plague that has the potential to turn the American Dream into the American Nightmare.